Lifting Embargo on Cuba Still on the Table U.S. Official Says
- From: PL <pl.nospam@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2006 15:24:55 GMT
18 August 2006
Lifting Embargo on Cuba "Still on the Table," U.S. Official Says
State's Shannon says world community can help democracy take root in Cuba
By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The European Union and other members of the global community can play an important role in helping Cuba make a transition to democracy, says Thomas Shannon, the U.S. State Department's assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
In an August 17 video conference with an audience in the Czech Republic's capital of Prague, Shannon said the Europeans can make it clear to the Cuban regime that they will not tolerate increased repression once Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, reportedly suffering from serious health problems, is no longer capable of "being present as a political leader."
Shannon repeated the U.S. offer to consider lifting its trade embargo on Havana if the Cuban regime fulfills a number of requirements, such as releasing political prisoners; guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech and association; allowing the creation of organizations that are independent of the state, including trade unions, neighborhood associations, and political parties; and starting a "pathway" that leads to free and fair elections.
The assistant secretary said President Bush offered in a 2002 speech "to look at how the embargo could be lifted," but Castro rejected the offer.
"The offer is still on the table," Shannon emphasized. He said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, co-chairs of the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC), have noted that the United States wants to "find a way to engage with Cuba as it makes its transition to democracy. We want to find a way to be helpful as Cubans begin to build and develop a democratic state." (See related article.)
But in Shannon's view the members of Castro's regime have "no intention of giving up power." The "powerbrokers" in the regime, such as Castro's brother and designated successor, Raul Castro, "will do everything they can to maintain the totalitarian state."
"This is where we believe the international community" can make its opposition clear about such a political course, Shannon said.
At the same time, Shannon reiterated the U.S. view that the Cuban people themselves must drive a transition to democracy in Cuba.
"Neither the United States nor other members of the international community can impose any kind of political situation in Cuba," Shannon said. "What happens in Cuba is something that is going to be determined by the Cuban people."
Shannon said the strength of the international community's voice on promoting democracy in Cuba "is going to depend on the degree to which we all speak together. Therefore, we will work very, very hard to make sure that our voice and others are part of a concerted effort, as opposed to a diverse or disintegrated effort."
The official said the United States is part of a global consensus that reincorporating Cuba into the larger community of democratic nations "has to be one of the primary diplomatic goals" of the international community.
Shannon said Fidel Castro "is in the midst of a very serious health crisis," but the severity of his illness is unknown because the Cuban state is "opaque."
Cuba's government, he said, "does not see information as something that it shares with its citizens or the world. Quite the contrary, it sees information as something that it guards and uses for political purposes."
But Shannon said it is "evident" that at "80 years of age and suffering from significant health problems that the ability of Fidel Castro to continue to play an active role in the day-to-day management of the Cuban state is ending."
Shannon said that "what we are seeing ... is the beginnings of a slow-motion transfer of power from Fidel Castro, a revolutionary leader, to individuals who represent the different institutions of a totalitarian state."
As the process moves forward, Shannon said, "we believe that now is an important time for the United States and the international community and those interested in democracy, such as civil society and non-governmental organizations, to begin talking about what a transition to democracy in Cuba should look like, and what expectations the international community has for that transition."
Shannon said the United States anticipates that such a transition will be peaceful, and that it will be determined by how the Cuban government responds "to what I think is an increasing effort within Cuban society to organize itself and start some kind of national dialogue about Cuba's future."
Shannon said that ultimately, the political path Cuba chooses "lies with the Cuban people, because at the end of the day it's up to Cubans to determine how this transition will take place and what Cuba's national future will be."
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